Europe


The new map is more reminiscent of early modernity, of the trade and pilgrimage routes, of the links between holy cities and routes of world communication. Periphery and centre, far and near – everything is being re-positioned. Even the most recent scenes of coming clashes are marked on this map of the new Europe: the London underground stations, the Moscow metro, the suburban railway station of Madrid-Antoch, where the bombs exploded. Marked on these most recent maps are the places where Europe is at its most vulnerable – in the public spaces of its great cities.

I wish I had expressed this as effectively as Karl Schlögel has here.  However, the fuzzy world which he sees coming into view–the one formed in spite of the memories of Cold War conflict between Europeans–has a much deeper history.  The Wall divided Europe, but the since of East and West has been ingrained in memory for much longer, at least since the Enlightenment.

Where the West ended and the East began was never clear, and many would argue that they were truly in the West, those over the next hill were in the East.  But East and West were two parts of the Christian world at different stages of development. Progress and openness on one side of the continent appeared opposite despotism and feudalism on the other.  The western states were in control of their own nations, subsequently dominating the world.  The eastern states-if they could be called states–were at the mercy of competing nationalisms.

Moreover, the eastern states were at the periphery, muddle in affairs of Asian countries and peoples.  Their orientation forced them to adapt to their social and cultural institutions to the proximity of the non-European world.  The orientalism of the West allowed them to overcome geography and dominate the non-European world.  The vestiges of this perspective appear whenever affairs of Georgia or Turkey are discussed.  It’s not the division between East and West made manifest by Soviet domination.  But it is a division made by the West, with a longer life.

 

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Poor Mika Brzezinski. Once again, she let Joe Scarborough cut her off in the process of refuting a half-baked argument. I wish she had at least a louder voice to compete with his bullish behavior.

This morning, it occurred in a debate (with Joe Walsh) over the image of America in the world. According to the men, the election of pro-American leaders proves that being associated with American values still holds currency with European voters.

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Is this the first bit of Euro-patriotism?

So the euro, our currency, has become a problem for US policy makers. Gorging on debt as a wealth creation, they have been freeriding on the dollar’s previously unassailable role for a very long time. But now, there is an alternative, and there finally are Europeans willing to say that the emperor is naked. This is a momentous event.

Like a fool, I’ve tried to piece together a plausible narrative that describes what motivates the group dynamics at the fore of Gosford Park.  The best I can say is that Lord Stockbridge wanted to remove his capital from investments in the British Empire and move them into more lucrative and modern industries, namely entertainment (because of his peculiar interest in the filmmakers’ business seemed to excite the jealousies of his family, many of whom made their living through imperialism).  His murder insured that empire would go on blissfully without reflecting on its weaknesses, although we all know it would eventually fail.

This all came to mind as I watched Pat Buchanan on Morning Joe insist that Britain unnecessarily risked its empire fighting Germany in WWII.  It seems that the mechanism that informs Buchanan’s historical analysis is that Britain’s decision to become involved in the war had the effect of expanding the war beyond what Hitler had intended.  Indeed, the choices that British governments made created an ever-escalating conflict.  To Buchanan, had the British not become involved, there would have been no loss of empire, a limited Holocaust, and no war in Western Europe.  And because of the war that led to the loss of empire, the West lost its ability to contain extremism globally.

Resisting the urge to debate him on the points (how could German honor be satisfied without defeating the French republic?), I find what may seem to be a worldview antithetical to the one Bush expressed in the Knesset, equally as dangerous.  Both speak against diplomatic engagement.  Both are premised on the question of whether force can be used to maintain order.  Both asks us to wait around until problems can only be resolved by armed intervention (I’ll give Buchanan at least the benefit of having a higher threshold than Buchanan).  Both point to the weaknesses of the conservative opinion of diplomacy: unnecessary as a prelude to force.

Was there a trade-off to all that good internationalism that followed World War II?  Well, as one set of nationalist myths was slowly peeled away, and sovereignty as the exclusive property of the nation dissolved into international organizations like the Council of Europe, NATO, the European Community, Warsaw Pact, and ComEcon (not all voluntary, of course), other myths became reality: the nation as an expression of ethnicity.  In some cases, nations benefitted from the Nazi’s removal and extermination of minorities–those who were considered problems of integration .

However, the post-war settlement also led to new boundaries and expulsion of other minority populations who asserted their own national claim on the same territory.  Germans were forced from Eastern European states, especially Czechoslovakia and Poland; these nations could regard themselves as more ethnically pure.  Even Germany could benefit: almost all its minority population exterminated, the sense of Germany being a nation of Germans was realized.  The “guest workers” who came from Spain, then Portugal, and then Turkey could be isolated from the main population, nationality remaining elusive, and the perception of ethnic purity preserved.  Obviously, Germany deals today with the integration of Turks, in particular, despite their efforts to prevent it from happening.

Poland provides a compelling case of how one such purified state deals with ‘Europeanization.’  Poland’s woes are storied: the partition by Austria, Prussia and Russia; failure of the democratic movement in the 1830s; the antagonism of German minorities after World War I; another partition, by Germany and the Soviet Union; and the domination of the Soviet Union in the post-war era.

Recently attention has been given to the treatment of Jews in Poland.  Once a refuge for Ashkenazi, what was once “the paradise of the Jews” has come under scrutiny for its antisemitism.  Historian Jan Gross, in particular, has pursued Polish antisemitism in a series of publications, most recently Neighbors and Fear.  Neighbors, a micro-history of a pogrom, studied exterminationist violence against Jews outside the context of Nazi direction–wholly pursued by Poles, independently and spontaneously.  Fear, though, raises more disturbing possibilities: the perpetuation of antisemitism in the postwar era as a dominant feature of Polish politics, both communist and nationalist.

Poland’s central collective narrative is of a morally clean nation that has witnessed horror but not been its collaborator.  If there is a single thread to this narrative it is the notion that Poland is untainted by the Holocaust.  The standard denials of culpability in pogroms and purges of Jews during or after the war, however, have been slowly unwinding since the 2001 publication of a book called Neighbors [sic] by Jan Gross, a US historian of Polish-Jewish origin.  [New Statesman, Feb 18, 2008]

 [Poles] being a direct witness to Nazi atrocities — Jews from all over Europe were herded to concentration camps in Poland — unleashed a brutal anti-semitism in the country that had for almost nine centuries been home to one of Europe’s largest Jewish communities.

His conclusions are harsh: “A very brutal anti-semitism was widespread in Poland,” he told his audience. “Many Poles agreed with the opinion that Hitler should have a monument elevated for helping Poland solve the Jewish question. That was happening not in only Poland, but in all of post-war Europe.” [Economist, Jan 31, 2008]

 According to Gross, Polish anti-semitism stems from the fear of the Polish people of giving back properties to the Holocaust survivors, as well as the feeling of guilt for their actions during the War. Gross also points the finger at the reproaches of the Polish church. He challenges the theory that the origins of post-war anti-semitism is the unproportionally high number of Jews in high positions in the communist regime. [Café Babel, Jan 28, 2008]

Gross’ assertion, that Polish political culture nurtures antisemitism, is at odds with Poles’ self-image of a nation that has suffered under both German occupation and communism.  Victimhood and resistance are not cleansing in themselves.  It does not erase the fact that Poles could, at times, act as agents of German policies or independently pursue their own exterminations.

Antisemtism after World War Two was not necessarily a racist discourse to oppress a people.  It was a blunt weapon used by political rivals.  Antisemtism played a central role in the suppression of competition between factions of Poland’s communism.  Elements within the government who were more closely associated with Soviet (Judaicized) communism were targets of an efforts to purify native communism.

The 1960s saw a new force appear, the Partisans, a loose group of party leaders united by a similar political background, combining nationalism and communism, under the leadership of General Mieczyslaw Moczar, head of the interior ministry.  Moczar accused Gomulka of supporting these “Muscovites”. Gomulka succumbed, denouncing the student activists as “Zionist” agents. By the end of 1968, two-thirds of Poland’s Jews had been driven into emigration.

The regime trundled on into another round of brutality and infighting and two years later, in 1970, insurrection broke out in the Baltic ports: Elblag, Gdansk, Gdynia and Szczecin and was suppressed at the cost of many lives. Enter Jaruzelski.  The 1968 campaign was largely based on the myth of Judeo-communism (Zydo-komuna) and developed a popular stereotype of Jewish communism to purify communism: the Jews as the dark side of communism. Whatever is wrong in communism is due to them. Jews spread disease.  But those bad old days are gone, aren’t they? [New Statesman]

Of course, real Jews–what few remained after the Holocaust–experienced violence and repression, as Karl Sauerland’s memoirs attest, or that is in evidence at recent events.

“The Jews are attacking us! We need to defend ourselves,” shouted Prof. Bogoslav Wolniewicz, to stormy applause.  About 1,000 people gathered for special services Sunday at the church, organized by the Committee Against Defamation of the Church and For Polishness, along with the anti-Semitic Radio Maryja. Local residents were informed of the service by posters that proclaimed: “The kikes will not continue to spit on us.” [Ha’aretz, Feb 12, 2008]

The key is antisemitism as a tool of political discourse, used to test the purity of one’s ideology.  However, this does not seem like genuine antisemitism–not big “A” antisemitism that emerged with the racial sciences of the nineteenth century.  This antisemitism is focused less on Jews than Poles own xenophobia, turning the Jew into the template of the foreigner.  It is a symptom of a society that blames its problems on foreign influence, even after communism’s retreat.  And it can survive without Jews, generalizing who the foreigner is in pursuit of a pure nation.

The PiS government (2004-2007) sold itself quite successfully as a party of “real Poles”, believers and families. It was a call to the faithful. Its spoke the language of “us and them,” of hidden interests and threats within the institutions of state. [New Statesman]

Further evidence that Europe’s secularism is something other than what we think it is: Christoph Prantner, in Der Standard, argues that Catholicism is reasserting itself in national politics, largely in response to the growth of Islam. In many cases, though, these trends question the secularization of the state and its meaning. Sarkozy, of course, has actively insisted on identifying France more closely with the Catholic/Christian heritage. In recent weeks, he has interpreted the 1905 laws of laicité not as a strict separation of state and religion, but the confessional neutrality of the state. Indeed, I feel emboldened to repeat what I have already written: that secularization has historically been the wresting of the state from the Church, but that Christianity has been a continual, though sometimes subliminal, theme in political culture.

From Zaki Laïdi’s Les formes inattendues de la puissance européenne (translation mine):

 First, Europe, often seen by Europeans as a weak actor without means, is in reality perceived as an influential actor on the world scene, less for its force of arms than its norms.  Second, Europe, often presented to the member states as a space deregulated in all activities so that market forces rule, is often seen by the rest of the world as a hyper-regulatory actor that seeks to generalize norms.  Finally, … when speaking of the political power of Europe, one must not only reference its military powerlessness but also the types of influence that flow from its existnece as a unique market.  We must change our perspective and ask if in the end Europe is above all a normative empire.

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